Former French leader Charles de Gaulle once famously asked the question: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” While Sussex doesn’t have quite that many as yet, it does have a surprisingly high number of delicious local varieties.
At High Weald Dairy alone, located in the village of Horsted Keynes in the West Sussex countryside, they produce some 15 artisan cheeses – ranging from their nutty cheddar-style brand, Duddleswell, to their semi-soft creamy cheese, St Giles, to their fresh and mild Sussex Slipcote.
Founded more than 25 years ago, with just one halloumi, today their award-winning range of cheeses is internationally renowned. In fact, just recently, their Brighton Blue was awarded a ‘Super Gold’ at the World Cheese Awards.
“That was a particularly exciting one for us,” says co-owner of High Weald Dairy, Sarah Hardy, who runs the business with her husband Mark. “I think the judges particularly liked our Brighton Blue because some blue cheeses can be rather strong, but ours is a very subtle, creamy cheese that really does melt in the mouth.”
What is more, all their cheeses are vegetarian – with the all-important rennet made from a mushroom derivative – and the majority of them are organic. The business also has a very sustainable approach – as well as using a wood-burner, fuelled by wood from their own woodland, they have solar panels – and they source their milk from only the highest-welfare farms.
And if you fancy trying your hand at making your own High Weald cheese, their regular one-day courses (pictured above) are proving a big hit too. Led by their skilled cheesemakers, the course offers the chance to learn the art of making a soft and hard cheese as well as a halloumi and a ricotta. Plus, participants get to take away a kilo of their own creations.
“There’s such a lovely atmosphere on the courses, as we always have the most wonderful, like-minded people who all share a passion for food and the desire to make something,” says Sarah. “A cross between both art and science, there’s a kind of alchemy to cheesemaking, and it’s great to share that with other people.”
As well as selling their cheeses from their onsite shop and online, they also distribute them through farmers’ markets, food festivals and other independent local retailers – which brings us on nicely to our second big Sussex cheese, appropriately named The Cheese Man.
Started over 20 years ago, this family-run wholesale company specialises in distributing local cheeses across Sussex and beyond – supplying some of the leading restaurants, farm shops and delis in the county. And such is the demand for local cheese that they have recently opened their own shop as well, The Cheese Hut, at Hove Lagoon.
“Over the years, we have constantly been asked if we could supply the public, but never had the space or facilities to do it properly,” says director Tony Cowling, who started the business with his father, Fred. “But when we moved to bigger premises last year, this gave us the space that we needed. And we are still keeping it in the family, as my wife Verity runs the shop.”
Naturally, Tony has seen a few changes in the industry over the years. Back when the company was first founded, it was more continental cheeses and cheddars that were in vogue. Now, though, he says customers are much more aware of the provenance of their food.
“At The Cheese Hut, we currently have over 100 different cheeses in stock, and almost half of those are from Sussex,” continues Tony. “In fact, some of the finest ranges of cheeses are right here on our very doorstep.”
Charles de Gaulle must be turning in his grave...
Tags: Sussex Cheeses